WHILE Scotland has been wrestling with the issues of raising revenue and then protecting it, perhaps somewhere in Massachusetts a professor at Harvard Business School has been considering adding a new lecture to her Masters degree entry course. It might be entitled Scotland: Taxing Lyrical and observe how a disputatious little outpost in the North Atlantic had overnight become a crucible for observing the practice, nature and ethics of raising revenue in a modern democracy.

For amateur and professional tax enthusiasts everywhere it would be like the feeling a twitcher might experience were he to log on to his favourite birding website and find that a Honduran Emerald, a Brazilian Merganser and a Pine Bunting had all been sighted around the same time in the same location. For, in the world of tax, the gang’s all here in modern, 21st century Scotland.

First up has been a good, old-fashioned political rammy about the morality of increasing tax by a modest amount, how it would be spent and whom in society it would most profoundly effect. That the two principal protagonists in this fiscal fracas are left-of-centre parties that each want to help the poor and most vulnerable in society and are committed to building a fairer nation adds a touch of the surreal to the proceedings. If the Tories had been seriously involved the debate would proceed along predictable lines. How is it possible, though, that two parties, each of whom professes God-fearing socialism, can be so far apart on raising tax by one more penny in the pound?

Running at the same time has been a dispute between how much cash a large nation must now grant its much smaller neighbour after adjustments have been made to take account of a few extra levers of taxation for the junior partner. And to add a little more spice to the imbroglio, the two parties bitterly disputing the 1p tax increase are nevertheless as one when telling their larger neighbour to the south that their revised block grant proposals are indeed detrimental to the Scottish economy.

Providing light relief to the proceedings are assorted senior executives of multinational tech and retail giants. For several weeks now we’ve laughed at watching them trying, with straight faces, to convince us that they are doing nothing wrong by paying a fraction of the tax rate the rest of us are required to pay for having access to the public services we all share. Behold Matt Brittan, Google’s President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and thus a man whose sphere of influence eclipses Alexander the Great’s.

When questioned last week by the Commons Public Accounts Committee Mr Brittan first of all couldn’t remember what his annual salary was and then said: “I understand that people when they see reported that we are paying three per cent tax would be angry, but we’re not; we’re paying 20 per cent tax.” His company has negotiated a £130 million settlement with HM Revenue and Customs on profits of £106m earned on revenues of £1.8 billion in the UK in the last 18 months. He even claimed Google was good value for its activities in the UK, even though the majority of its output comes from 20,000 coders paying tax in the US.

Labour can’t really be faulted for introducing its one penny tax increase, predictably voted down at Holyrood. For the past three years, and especially during the heat of Scotland’s constitutional battle, I was told on countless occasions that people would be willing to pay more in tax if it meant doing their bit for a fairer and more equal Scotland. This was often said in a pointed manner that suggested we Scots were beholden to a higher moral code than our more materialistic neighbours south of the Border.

There are those, myself included, who felt that the SNP’s White Paper on independence was overly optimistic about how immediately successful we would be on our own. A more honest and realistic approach might have been to admit that, of course, the start-up costs would be onerous but, if the idea of running your own affairs is as sacred to you as you claim it to be, then the hit is worth taking. And then, instead of over-stating oil revenues, it could have outlined how Scotland might develop a responsible borrowing strategy and contrast it with George Osborne’s incontinent approach, one which has led to the UK’s debt rising to one trillion pounds.

Having aired the concept of an increase, it could be said that Labour has rendered Nicola Sturgeon a service by providing her with an early indication of people’s feelings about taxation, something that she will inevitably have to consider when writing the White Paper for a second independence referendum. The vehemence with which the SNP’s greeted it was absurd. You can’t say that a modest tax increase will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in society when none will be earning enough to pay tax in the first place; better that they had instead pressed home the advantage they are gaining in negotiations with London on the fiscal framework.

More important than the fact of Labour’s 1p initiative was that, simply by introducing this they enkindled a national debate about the ethics and philosophy of increasing taxes and whether those who earn more ought to pay more. If we are having a debate on increasing revenue through more taxation then there must be a debate on how the extra money is spent, even if you agree with the principle of paying more.

More people might be a lot more willing to pay a little bit more if the local authority gravy train that annually enriches hundreds of featureless executives could somehow be decoupled from the public purse. How a country of barely five million souls can, year after year; administration after administration, sustain 32 local authorities, each with its own bloated and swollen executive class, is one of the great wonders of the democratic world. That a cull of Scotland’s local authorities and their executive honey-pots has not featured on either of our main parties’ manifestos becomes more curious every year.

Of course, the forces of the Right in Scotland deride the very concept of any sane person ever wanting to pay more. They are required to do this as their entire financial and moral philosophy is built on squeezing as much as possible from as many as possible for as little as possible.